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Excerpt from the National Law Journal.
Ä  NORML (1:375/48) ÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄÄ NORML Ä
Msg : #3709 
From : Carl Olsen 1:290/2 Sun 03 Apr 94 21:00
To : All
Subj : NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL
False Logic Misdirects The U.S. War on Drugs
By L. Felipe Restrepo
Special to The National Law Journal
FOR TOO LONG the American public has been fed a steady diet of empty rhetoric
and false bravado professing the success of the "drug war" by politicians more
interested in making headlines than solving the problem. As of September 1992
the Federal Bureau of Prisons was operating at 144 percent capacity. The bureau
currently has approximately 71,000 inmates in custody, 59.2 percent of whom are
in custody for drug offenses, at a cost of nearly $21,000 per inmate per year.
Because federal sentencing schemes have stripped judges of all but the
most minimal discretion, we can expect these numbers to increase. The impact
of current policies on local and state prison systems is even more pronounced
and has led to prison caps and federal court intervention. We can only hope
that current and future administrations and policy makers will not continue to
subscribe to that conventional wisdom that the way to fight drugs is to limit
the supply through interdiction, arrests and severe prison sentences.
Current policies defy the economic reality of drug trafficking and only
exacerbate a problem rapidly reaching critical mass. Supply-side strategies
ignore the ugly truth that there is an insatiable demand for drugs here and that
supply never creates its own demand. Progress will not occur until government
policies address drug trafficking as a problem rooted in economic principles
both in the United States and the source countries. Resources must be
reallocated recognizing the drug problem as demand-driven.
Policies targeting availability as opposed to demand for drugs have
created a false economy with no correlation between the cost of producing the
product and the cost to the buyer. The critical component of pricing drugs on
the street is the risk involved in selling the product.
This, in turn, leads to increased violence on our streets and schools
while doing nothing to decrease demand. Because of economies of scale, the
profit margin has increased for those willing to assume the risk of selling
drugs, so that, as the business of selling drugs becomes more lucrative, the
number of willing dealers servicing willing buyers increases. This is hardly
effective public policy.
The profit margin for trafficking in drugs are staggering: A pound of
marijuana in Mexico can be bought for about $100. The same pound in
Philadelphia will command $2,000. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine can be
purchased for between $500 and $1,000 in Colombia: The same kilogram will be
sold wholesale for $12,000 to $15,000 in Miami, $19,000 to $22,000 in New York
City, and for $22,000 to $30,000 in Philadelphia.
The retail value of each kilo expands geometrically on the streets as it
is "cut" many times with other substances in order to increase the weight. The
efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration and state and local police
notwithstanding, the price of a kilo of cocaine has remained fairly consistent
and the violence associated with the "war on drugs" on our streets and in our
schools has increased.
The virtual acquittal of Marion Barry, ex-mayor of Washington, D.C.,
confirmed the international perception that the United States is anything but
serious about doing its share to address an unchecked demand for drugs. When
the government has taken strong action, it has provoked international outrage
but had little effect on the drug problem at home.
The Supreme Courts decision in U.S. v. Alvarez-Machain, 112 S.Ct. 2188
(1992), condoning the kidnapping by the American government of a foreign citizen
under indictment in this country, violated the sovereignty of another country,
as did the invasion of Panama to get Gen. Manuel Noriega to this country for
trial. But neither made an impact on the availability of drugs. Street-corner
sales continue, the wholesale price of cocaine has not changed, and our
government continues to miss the point.
Vilifying the source countries and blaming them for the American drug
problem smacks of jingoism. The price other countries have paid as a result of
their own supply-side assault on drugs is incalculable. Colombia has lost to
narco-terrorism a presidential candidate, an attorney general, several justices
of the Supreme Court, members of congress, hundreds of federal judges, thousands
of military and police personnel and tens of thousands of civilians.
The entire fabric of Perus social, economic and political structure has
been stretched to the point of anarchy, in large part because of the alliance
forged between the wholesale distributors of cocaine and the "Shining Path"
guerrillas. These two groups have successfully exploited strong anti-American
sentiment and capitalized on the tremendous profit margin our drug war has
As the ranks of the United States poor swell and their sense of
frustration and alienation from the political and economic process grows,
current policies will only continue to lead us down the path of failure, at a
tragic cost to the fabric of our society.
The United States cannot effectively wage war against itself. We must
demilitarize our approach to the drug problem, emphasizing social, economic,
educational and family policies, targeting groups ignored during the Reagan/Bush
years. Government programs must be more pro-active, focusing on children during
their formative years. And in the interim, we have to redouble efforts to
rehabilitate adult addicts and reintegrate them into society and the workforce.
In her book, "The March of Folly" Harvard historian Barbara W. Tuchman
defined "wooden-headedness" as follows: "Wooden-headedness, the source of
self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government.
It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived notions while
ignoring or rejecting contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not
allowing one to be deflected by the facts." Our leaders must abandon their
political fantasies lest they be labeled wooden-headed by future generations.
The National Law Journal, Monday, April 12, 1993, Pages 13-14. Mr.
Restrepo is a partner in the Philadelphia firm of Krasner and Restrepo.
--- Tabby 3.0
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